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Undertow

Michael Buckley. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-544-34825-7

Buckley (the N.E.R.D.S. series) jumps from middle-grade to YA with this trilogy opener, which sees two worlds colliding as New York City’s Coney Island becomes occupied by the Alpha, an ocean-dwelling race that is nothing like the mermaids of myth. The Alpha come in all shapes and sizes, from the alluring Sirena to the deadly Nix, resembling myriad aquatic species. Their arrival inspires fear, hatred, and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker, who hides secrets of her own, is chosen by her high school’s new principal to help several Alpha teens integrate into the school—a dangerous proposition with anti-Alpha sentiment rapidly on the rise. Buckley’s depiction of the Alpha relies much on standard supernatural tropes (they’re proud, honorable, arrogant, and warlike), but he also imbues them with an alien mystery. Lyric’s plight is predictable, especially her blossoming attraction to Alpha prince Fathom, yet her path holds some surprises, and Buckley draws clear parallels between the vicious anti-Alpha attitudes and existing racial and ethnic prejudices. It’s a fascinating, engaging, and tense tale, and a strong start to the series. Ages 12–up. Agent: Alison Fargis, Stonesong. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Am Princess X

Cherie Priest, illus. by Kali Ciesemier. Scholastic/Levine, $18.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-545-62085-7

Back in fifth grade, best friends May and Libby created Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine who wears Converse sneakers with her ball gown. Ever since Libby and her mother died in a freak accident, May’s life has been as gray as her Seattle home—until the 16-year-old spots a Princess X sticker in a store window, leading her to a Princess X webcomic that suggests that Libby might still be alive. With the help of Trick, a hacker-for-hire, May follows the trail that Princess X’s near-mythic narrative leaves for her, which incorporates Seattle landmarks like the Fremont Troll and characters like the dangerous Needle Man and the mysterious, helpful Jackdaw. Illustrations from the Princess X comic—skillfully rendered by Ciesemier and printed in purple—add greatly to this techno-thriller’s tension. Fresh and contemporary, this hybrid novel/comic packs a lot of plot in a relatively short book, but its strongest suit may be Priest’s keen understanding of the chasmic gap between the way teens and adults engage in the landscape of the Internet. Ages 12–up. Author’s agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cuckoo Song

Frances Hardinge. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1480-1

In this painful and powerful tale set in post-WWI England, readers meet 11-year-old Triss, the coddled daughter of a respected civil engineer and an overprotective mother, as well as her jealous younger sister, Pen. As the story opens, Triss has somehow fallen into a local pond, barely escaping with her life, and she regains consciousness to find that the world has gone strange. Her memories are spotty and inconsistent, store mannequins and dolls turn their heads to follow her movements, and every time she closes her eyes she senses “dreams waiting at the mousehole of her mind’s edge, ready to catch her up in their soft cat-mouth and carry her off somewhere she did not want to go.” Triss feels an overwhelming hunger that cannot be assuaged by human food and suspects she is no longer human. In the guise of a gorgeously written and disconcerting fairy tale, Hardinge (A Face Like Glass) delves deeply into the darker side of family life, particularly sibling rivalry and the devastating effect war can have on those left at home. Ages 12–up. Agent: Nancy Miles, Miles Stott Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Disappearance of Emily H.

Barry Summy. Delacorte, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-73943-6

Raine is used to being the new girl: her mother has a pattern of dating the wrong guys and leaving town when the relationships fall apart. But as Raine starts eighth grade in the town of Yielding, N.Y., she has two additional problems. One is her supernatural ability to see “sparkles,” which hold people’s memories; these memories give Raine insight into people’s inner lives, but her habit of reaching out to grab something no one else can see brands her as a weirdo. Additionally, Raine has moved into the house of Emily Huvar, a girl who disappeared two months earlier and is presumed dead. Via the sparkles Raine learns that a bullying classmate named Jennifer, who is turning her attention on Raine and her new friend Shirlee, may have had something to do with Emily’s disappearance. Summy (the I So Don’t Do... series) realistically captures the quiet horror of bullying and the methods tormentors use to avoid adult detection. Raine’s resentment of her mother’s dating patterns is similarly believable, and the mystery of Emily’s whereabouts unfolds with gripping tension and a dramatic conclusion. Ages 10–up. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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If I Were You

Leslie Margolis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-30068-5

At the end of the summer, 12-year-old best friends Melody and Katie are no longer speaking, having fallen out over a boy. But the rift actually cuts deeper: each girl envies the other’s life. So when their bus to the beach passes through what Melody has always believed is a magical tunnel, both girls wish to relive the summer as the other, and the summer reboots, with Katie as Melody and vice versa. Margolis (the Maggie Brooklyn Mystery series) takes her Freaky Friday–style setup down a typical path, with the girls’ initial enjoyment of their new lives giving way to deeper understanding. Katie loves Melody’s curvy body while Melody appreciates looking more childlike again. The freedoms of Melody’s house (not to mention dating the boy who came between them) thrill Katie, while Katie’s close-knit family is all Melody ever wanted. Margolis uses a light touch as she navigates the challenges of growing up and changing friendships. Her characters are fully formed and sympathetic in a fresh take on the age-old idea that there’s no place like home. Ages 10–14. Agent: Laura Langlie, Laura Langlie Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Knighting of Sir Kaye

Don M. Winn, illus. by Dave Allred. Progressive Rising Phoenix Press (progressiverisingphoenix.com), $8.95 paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-940834-25-2

In this first book in the Sir Kaye: The Boy Knight series, two sensitive outliers—Reggie, the story’s narrator, and Kaye, a talented knitter who strives to become a great knight—meet in the medieval forests of Knox and become tentative friends. While exploring the woods, the boys are embroiled in a series of light, comical escapades, while learning about the give-and-take nature of friendship. After rescuing the nephew of Knox’s new queen from bandits, they are invited to Castle Forte, where Kaye has the opportunity to become a real knight, and Reggie, his assistant. Reggie’s dry sense of humor makes him a companionable narrator; this, along with some brisk action sequences and Allred’s occasional b&w illustrations, should give Winn’s story solid, broad appeal. While dramatic tension builds slowly, with the initial chapters reading like stand-alone episodes, the plot comes together once the boys arrive at the castle. Fortitude, good will, and friendship triumph over pettiness in this enjoyable story. The second book in the series, The Lost Castle Treasure, is also available. Ages 8–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Orphan Army

Jonathan Maberry. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1575-0

In this opening installment of the Nightsiders series, Maberry (the Rot & Ruin series) mixes genres to admirable effect. Six years after the alien Swarm invaded Earth, the remaining free humans exist as nomadic refugees and rebels, scavenging to survive while plotting ways to fight back. Eleven-year-old Milo Silk belongs to one such group. Troubled by recurring dreams in which the so-called Witch of the World exhorts him to become the hero Earth needs, Milo is astounded to discover that creatures of myth and legend—werewolves, faeries, spirits of wood and stone—exist and are also fighting the Swarm. Humans and monsters must form an uneasy alliance to recover the missing Heart of Darkness, a powerful magical artifact, before their alien foes evolve into an even greater menace. Maberry skillfully blends postapocalyptic warfare with supernatural adventure, presenting memorable characters and a tense narrative. Excerpts from Milo’s dream journal provide extra insight into the bizarre circumstances as they occur. It’s a strong start to what looks to be a highly entertaining story line. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Friendship Riddle

Megan Frazer Blakemore. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-61963-630-9

Sixth-grader Ruth, who teachers describe as “a bit in her own world,” lives in the small seaside town of Promise, Maine, with her Mom and Mum; her former best friend Charlotte—adopted from China by her fathers—is now aligned with the popular girls. During a relentlessly snowy winter, Ruth is focused on a “secret clue” she found in a library book (Could it be the start of a “saga-worthy” quest like her favorite fantasy novel heroine is always embarking upon?) and on the upcoming spelling-bee championships. But her heart is on her lost friendship with Charlotte and her uncertainty about investing in new friends. Blakemore (The Spycatchers of Maple Hill) has created a cast of distinctive and believable sixth-graders; the new relationships develop more satisfactorily than the plot, which lacks momentum. Once Ruth invites her friends to help with the clues, the search does take on the nature of a quest, which wraps up cleverly, if a little too neatly. This sprawling novel’s chief strength is its portrayals of middle school dynamics, seen through the eyes of unconventional Ruth, and of contemporary family life. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cosmoe’s Wiener Getaway

Max Brallier, illus. by Rachel Maguire. S&S/Aladdin, $13.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2494-3

Readers who enjoyed Brallier and Maguire’s Galactic Hot Dogs webcomic (or played around in the recently launched Poptropica.com island set in the same universe) can follow the travails of Cosmoe the Earth-Boy, alien cohort Big Humphree, and maybe-evil Princess Dagger in this print adaptation. Covering the same territory as the 26 chapters of Cosmoe’s story available at Funbrain.com, this hybrid novel/comic follows Cosmoe’s attempts to gather the pieces of the Map-O-Sphere, which purportedly leads the way to the Ultimate Evil. Brallier’s story races ahead at what in the film Space Balls would be called “ludicrous speed.” Maguire does a heroic job of keeping up with twists and turns that include run-ins with Zombie Space Pirates and the villainous General Krax von Grumble, as well as intergalactic wrestling and video-game tournaments; even so, the action isn’t easy to track. Planet-shaking sound effects (“SHHH-BLAM!!!”) and lowbrow humor proliferate (“There are 19,476 doom-suns in the known galaxy and they’re all hot as butts”), adding up to a whirlwind SF adventure that doesn’t take itself a bit seriously. Ages 8–12. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cakes in Space

Philip Reeve, illus. by Sarah McIntyre. Random, $12.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-38792-7

When 10-year-old Astra asks the Nom-o-Tron food synthesizer on her spaceship for the “ultimate cake” (“I want something so delicious, it’s scary!”), she inadvertently sets in motion a wild intergalactic adventure filled with ferocious cakes with razor-sharp teeth, spoon-stealing aliens, and an unlikely but endearing friendship with a Nameless Horror. Astra and her parents (McIntyre’s orange-and-black illustrations reveal them to be a mixed-race family) are heading to Nova Mundi to make “the new planet ready for other people from Earth.” Given that the journey will take 199 years and requires cryogenic stasis in “freezer beds,” there are bound to be some bumps along the way. When Astra awakens during the journey to find their ship off course and under attack, she realizes that she is partly to blame and has to set things right. Though bits of Reeve and McIntyre’s second “Not-So-Impossible Tale” (following 2014’s Oliver and the Seawigs, set in the same world) have a hint of scariness, the kookiness of the characters and McIntyre’s humorous cartoons, which are fully integrated into the story, keep this thrill-ride light and fun. Ages 7–10. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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