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The Safest Lies

Megan Miranda. Crown, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-553-53751-2

Miranda (Soulprint) explores the traumatic effects of fear conditioning while offering chills aplenty in this frightening thriller. Kelsey Thomas lives in a beautiful home with her mother, Amanda, who hasn’t left for 17 years, since Kelsey was born. The house is a fortress meant to keep any threat at bay. When Kelsey is involved in a car accident and rescued by volunteer fireman and classmate Ryan Baker, it kicks off a series of events that bring to light the horror that her mother suffered all those years ago. Then Kelsey’s mother disappears. Someone has Kelsey in his or her sights, and it’s surely connected to her mother’s past. Desperate to find her mother, Kelsey, with Ryan’s help, begins sifting through clues about her mother’s abduction and discovers that nothing is what it seems. Writing from Kelsey’s first-person perspective, Miranda expertly builds a sense of dread, leaving readers to uncover the truth right alongside Kelsey. A touch of romance adds levity, and the breathless cat-and-mouse game between Kelsey and her shadowy pursuers makes this a fast-paced, suspenseful treat. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It Wasn’t Always Like This

Joy Preble. Soho Teen, $18.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61695-588-5

Immortality with the boy you love sounds dreamy, but it’s a nightmare in Preble’s (Finding Paris) intriguing if overplotted thriller. It’s 1913, and 17-year-olds Emma O’Neill and Charlie Ryan have been in love for years. Their happiness evaporates when a strange man persuades their families to drink his homebrewed anti-polio potion; while it wards off polio, it also prevents them from aging. After tragedy strikes, Emma and Charlie flee Florida to avoid the evangelical Church of Light, whose members believe that their immortality is a sign of the devil. In a move meant to be noble but that instead paints him as deeply unsympathetic, Charlie parts ways with Emma. In the present day, Emma becomes a private investigator, determined to find her lost love and the church members who are killing teenage girls in an attempt to draw her out. Preble’s memorable characters and unusual take on being forever young are mired in a tangle of unneeded story lines, including Charlie’s stint as a war pilot and the church’s dubious scheme to find Emma. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ask Me How I Got Here

Christine Heppermann. Greenwillow, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-238795-0

In concise, passionate poems set over several months, Addie, a sophomore and cross-country runner at Immaculate Heart Academy, narrates the turbulent journey that begins with her crush on a student named Nick, includes her unplanned pregnancy and subsequent abortion, and examines the feelings that subsequently engulf her. While Heppermann used fairy tale elements to heighten the experiences of contemporary girlhood in Poisoned Apples, Addie’s poems do so through evocative religious imagery: “Sunday Morning” describes lovemaking (“His mouth a skittish liturgy/ along my neck,/ my need a holy ache,/ a blessing”) while “Mercy” offers her parents’ and boyfriend’s understanding response to her news (“Nick comes over. My/ parents go out, come home later/ with mint chip ice cream”). The Virgin Mary figures in many poems, giving voice to Addie’s frustrations and questions: “She never had to listen/ to excuses from Joseph/ about how he meant/ to bring protection” and “Maybe she had a favorite song,/ a mole on her chin, a secret dream/ that, after a while, not even she/ remembered.” Heppermann’s discerning and incisive verse elegantly conveys the heightened sensitivity and multilayered complexity of Addie’s emotions. Ages 14–up. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Unexpected Everything

Morgan Matson. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (528p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0454-9

Andie Walker’s plan to spend the summer at a young scholars’ program at Johns Hopkins is upended when her father, a U.S. congressman, becomes engulfed in scandal. Suddenly Dad is always around, trying to act like he’s involved in her life, and Andie’s only job option is dog-walking. On the plus side, staying in Connecticut means spending time with her three best friends. Then she meets and falls for Clark, a cute and slightly geeky boy who hires her to walk his dog, breaking her habit of short-term flings she likes to keep “light, fun, not too serious, and nothing more than kissing.” Matson (Since You’ve Been Gone) makes good use of elements common to many of her novels: new romance, friendship struggles, an easy-to-like protagonist with relatable insecurities, and memorably quirky details (an unfinished painting by Andie’s dead mother, a scavenger hunt, movie marathons with her father). Though Andie’s friend and boyfriend complications feel forced and are resolved without much ado, Matson’s fans will enjoy sinking into this immersive summer read. Ages 12–up. Agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Silverwood

D.E. Vollrath. Wicked Pig, $11.99 paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-692-44433-7

Evoking a sense of wonder and joy, Vollrath’s debut, set in the fictional port city of Flosston Moor, follows Eleanor Wigton as she starts her second year at the prestigious Penwick Academy. Magic is banished—supposedly dead—after a fire ripped through part of the city. Eleanor is a quiet, studious 12-year-old—in fact, she’s first in her class. Despite her youth, and perhaps because of her sterling reputation, she and five older students are chosen to work on a secret project, with the blessing of the headmistress. What follows is an adventure like no other, leading Eleanor and friends into a world of mysterious liquid books, Netherdoors, and dark Dwarven territories. Page-turning action entwines with familiar struggles, written in a way that calls to mind similar fantasy novels (students at Penwick must choose between houses/specializations such as Numerancy, Navigation, and Barristers). Yet Vollrath’s story stands firmly on its own merits as it explores Eleanor’s internal and external journeys, friendships, the other (dwarves, namely), and the good and bad decisions made by young and old alike. Ages 10–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sea Change

Frank Viva. Toon (Consortium, dist.), $18.95 (120p) ISBN 978-1-935179-92-4

Twelve-year-old Eliot Dionisi’s mother is sending him away for the summer to stay with relatives in the Nova Scotia fishing village of Point Aconi. “Sounds like the name of a sharp object to me,” he grouses. At first, his gloomy expectations are borne out. His Uncle Earl, a laconic lobster fisherman, wakes him before dawn each day, the food is appalling, and town bully Donnie threatens him with a baseball bat. But gradually Eliot’s horizons widen. Uncle Earl has an unexpected love for literature; Timmy, a younger boy with a speech impediment, shows him what courage looks like; and the bruises on his friend Mary Beth’s arms assume more than casual importance. Although there are some cloying moments (“I think he just needs another chance, sir,” Eliot tells his uncle about Donnie), Viva’s (Outstanding in the Rain) small-town characterizations ring true. More illustrated novel than graphic novel, the story combines drawings with playful typography, which warps and bends around the images, even forming faces, à la concrete poetry, at times. Moving from picture books into fiction can be a stretch; Viva makes it look easy. Ages 8–12. Agency: Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

Esta Spalding, illus. by Sydney Smith. Little, Brown, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-29858-2

Technically, the Fitzgerald-Trout children are stepsiblings, but in this quirky series kickoff—a sort of modern-day answer to the Boxcar Children—family is family. Abandoned by their various parents, Kim, Kimo, Pippa, and Toby live in a parked car on an unnamed tropical island, a setting that comes alive with its lush beaches and to-be-avoided forest filled with poisonous iguanas. Their mothers—one a wildly vain country singer, the other a stockbroker “so greedy that she wore diamonds all over herself”—stop by occasionally to give the children (barely) enough money to get by. But they are outgrowing the car and need a more permanent home. The Fitzgerald-Trouts’ struggle to find stability feels urgent throughout, but Spalding, a poet and screenwriter making her children’s book debut, balances the direness of their situation with over-the-top characters and humor-driven narration. If the story’s magic lies in its Dahl-esque approach to topics like homelessness and parental neglect, its heart lies in the relationship between these four mutually devoted children. Art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists. Illustrator’s agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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There Is a Tribe of Kids

Lane Smith. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62672-056-5

Though Smith’s story is mostly built around terms for groups of animals— “a crash of rhinos,” “an unkindness of ravens”—it stars a solitary human child, a cross between Peter Pan and Mowgli. Dressed in leaves, he kneels among baby mountain goats (“There was a tribe of kids”) until their mother leads them out of reach. He dances with penguins until they swim away. He crawls along with a caterpillar, then hangs upside down next to it until the inevitable happens: “There was a flight of butterflies.” All of these goodbyes have a wistful sameness, so readers will rejoice when at last the child finds his own tribe of kids—a rainbow of leaf-clad children. One of the book’s delights is its shifting moods and colors, which feel like the movements of an orchestral work. The textures Smith (Return to Augie Hobble) builds up seem organically formed, as if waves and time had worn them down, yet the spreads are vivid and clean. Every living being, Smith implies, needs a place to belong, and children, especially, need other children. Ages 5–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog

Keri Claiborne Boyle, illus. by Jonathan Sneider. Harper, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-238283-2

Teddy the dog, a cartoon character from a Massachusetts-based apparel line, makes his literary debut, as do his creators. A pointy-eared, sunglasses-wearing mutt, Teddy is a scamp with a clear conscience. “Folks, life is great here in Teddy-ville,” he tells readers in the opening scene, though the citizens left to deal with the mud, garbage, and excrement he’s left in his wake appear to feel otherwise. Teddy’s relaxed persona and motto, “Be your own dog,” are tested with the arrival of Penelope the cat, but Teddy gradually realizes that he and Penelope have just enough in common (including a disdain for fetching) to be effective co-conspirators. “I guess we’re both trying to be who we’re meant to be,” Teddy philosophizes as he and Penelope pilfer treats from the cookie jar. Teddy’s attempts at rapprochement and eventual respect for Penelope’s individuality offer worthy lessons, but the drawn-out story sags under the weight of meandering scenes and tired wordplay (“when life gives you a mud puddle, you just have to roll in it”). It’s more a collection of one-off gags than a sustained narrative. Ages 4–8. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks

Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illus. by Dan Santat. Putnam, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-17626-5

Gomez (What About Moose?) joins the team behind The Three Ninja Pigs and Ninja Red Riding Hood for a fractured fairy tale that delivers more satisfying martial arts mayhem. There’s a moment of reflection as chickens Hensel and Gretel stand before the 3 Pigs Dojo (“Get empowered, not devoured”), but from then on it’s all action as they find their parents have been chicken-napped, bushwhack through the forest, and arrive at a fox’s cottage, made from cornbread. Inside, they find their parents and realize their peril: “ ‘Watch out!’ Papa cried./ ‘You’ll be chicken-pot-pied!’ ” Feathers fly and teeth are bared as the chickens square off against the fox, hurling kitchenware and delivering blows until their parents are freed: “You two Ninja Chicks/ got us out of that fix,/ and justice—not dinner—was served.” Santat serves up an unstoppable barrage of exaggerated angles, action lines, and pop-eyed facial expressions to accompany Schwartz and Gomez’s sturdy limerick-metered verse. It’s almost possible to hear the clang as the wok clocks the fox. Ages 4–8. Authors’ agent: Kendra Marcus, Bookstop Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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